WTO warns of trade slowdown due to protectionism

The director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has told CNBC it will downgrade global trade growth estimates for both 2013 and 2014, despite hopes that the world economy is recovering.

In an exclusive interview with CNBC, Brazilian Roberto Azevedo said world trade growth estimates for this year would be revised down to 2.5 percent next week from the previous estimate of 3.3 percent.

Next year's global trade growth estimate of 5 percent would also be downgraded to 4.5 percent for 2014.

Azevedo said that while the global trade environment looked difficult, he was still hopeful, arguing that the world economy was picking up a little bit, with more positive numbers and a better mood in terms of trade negotiations.

The 55-year-old Brazilian said that trade numbers were weaker due to protectionism across the globe.

(Read more: Protectionism is thriving and 'could hit growth')

"Protectionism is going up, it's going up slowly, gradually, inching up; but it's also growing in different ways, it's become more sophisticated, it's become more complex, more difficult to detect," he said.

"It's no longer tariffs and export subsidies and things which are really obvious. It's now become regulations and regulations; they find a niche in the grey areas of current agreements."

A report on Monday by the European Commission said that trade protectionism has continued to increase across the world over the last year, with over 150 new trade restrictions created and almost 700 introduced since October 2008. The report highlighted Russia as one of the chief offenders.

Azevedo took over as head of the WTO on September 1, succeeding Pascal Lamy and becoming the first official from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) group of emerging economies to head the organization.

Azevedo also played down the impact of an U.S.-EU trade deal in boosting global trade. The two parties hope to introduce an agreement by the end of 2014.

"Those bilateral deals are limited because of the nature of those deals, so there are less topics covered, there are less countries involved...tariffs are not really that high so most of the advances that will happen will happen in terms of disciplines," he said.

"It doesn't have the global automatic multilateral effect that you have when you have negotiations in the WTO."